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Birds of a Feather: SLAS Special Interest Groups

SLAS is committed to being a member-driven scientific society. The strength of its active grassroots network is what gives SLAS such a meaningful grip on strategic direction and priorities. Everything from conference programs and events to journal content and newsletters uses the needs and wants of the SLAS scientific community as the compass that guides focus and development.


"Because the SLAS scientific community is hard-wired into emerging technologies and advanced science, its interests and priorities can change quickly," says SLAS Member Services Manager Katie Woywod. "One way SLAS fosters the development of new ideas and initiatives is through special interest groups."

SIGs (special interest groups) are relatively informal groups that are organized by SLAS members to create forums for exploring specialized topics that may not (yet!) be of interest to the SLAS membership at large. SIGs foster and promote emerging areas of interest that are within the educational scope and strategic vision of the organization, and they serve as a way to assess the general level of interest in particular topics. SLAS members may join SIGs for free.

"Some SIGs may remain in place forever. Other SIGs may come and go as interests pique and fade, while others may eventually become such a part of the mainstream that they dissolve and their topics become established parts of SLAS's headline programs, products, services and events," says Woywod. "For example, it will be interesting to see what happens with our Stem Cell SIG. It began as a niche and has since blossomed into two very impressive global symposia."

SLAS currently has nine SIGs, each with a different agenda based on what the group itself believes is important and wants to achieve. "It's through SIGs that likeminded SLAS members connect, share knowledge and experience, and explore new frontiers," says SLAS President Michelle Palmer, Ph.D., of The Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA. "They set their own agendas within a framework established by SLAS. It's very easy to do. The key is identifying prospective members by identifying a common focus – data standards, for example – and then getting them on board with the idea."

Legacy of Achievement

SIGs were an important part of the Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) before it merged in 2010 with the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) to form SLAS. One of SBS's greatest and certainly most famous achievements emerged from the activities of its Microplates Standards SIG.

With the new millennium came a game-changing shift toward assay miniaturization. Ninety-six well plates were quickly giving way to 384 microtiter plates, and almost every microplate was slightly different dimensionally. This played havoc with automated systems. The Microplates Standards SIG was formed specifically to address this new dilemma, and the eventual result was the standardization of definitions and specifications for microplate dimensions. These standards were officially launched through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and were quickly adopted by manufacturers who still respect them as an essential component in the design of laboratory automation equipment. The SIG did not dissolve with this success. It still exists and its members monitor research trends and developments with the goal of ensuring that standards are kept current.

Established SLAS Special Interest Groups

• Academic Drug Discovery

Chairs: Sandra Nelson and Rathnam Chaguturu

LinkedIn subgroup



Chair: David Stresser

LinkedIn subgroup


• Automation Quality Control

Chairs: John Thomas Bradshaw and Jack Dawson

LinkedIn subgroup


• Data Analysis and Management

Chair: Chip Allee

LinkedIn subgroup


• Drug Repurposing

Chairs: Roger Bosse and Mathieu Arcand

LinkedIn subgroup


• Labware Leachables

Chair: Lynn Rasmussen

LinkedIn subgroup


• Microplate Standards

Chairs: Amer El-Hage and Michael Shanler

LinkedIn subgroup


• Sample Management

Chairs: Richard Kuo and Timothy Dawes

LinkedIn subgroup


• Screen Design and Assay Technology

Chair: Kenda Evans

LinkedIn subgroup


• Stem Cells

Chairs: Marcie Glicksman and Sitta Sittampalam

LinkedIn subgroup


• Technology Transfer and CRO/CMO Project Management

Chair: Liming Shi

LinkedIn subgroup


New SLAS Special Interest Groups in Formation

• Informatics

Anyone interested in forming this SIG is encouraged to contact SLAS.

• Open Call for Standards Initiatives

Anyone interested in forming this SIG is encouraged to contact SLAS.

• Women in Laboratory Automation and Technology

Anyone interested in forming this SIG is encouraged to contact Robyn Rourick.

Organizing a SIG

As part of its commitment to organizational excellence and governance transparency, the SLAS Board of Directors recently adopted a more formalized process for the organization of new SIGs. SLAS members interested in organizing a new SIG are invited to complete an SLAS Special Interest Group Charter Application and submit it to the board for consideration and approval. The purpose of the application is to verify that the group has an established core of SLAS members that are interested in its formation and are willing to actively participate. The SIG Charter Application requires:

• Statement of purpose

• Justification for formation

• Detailed plans

• Proposed activities

• Chair and/or co-chairs who will serve as primary representative(s) of the SIG

• Minimum of 15 signatures from current SLAS members who pledge to participate and support the group's activities

Most SIGs host a meeting during the SLAS Annual Conference and Exhibition. Throughout the rest of the year, they may further agenda items via telephone, e-mail and dedicated forums on LinkedIn. In some cases, limited funding may be provided to support ideas and initiatives. 

The Payoff

Active participation in a SIG results in education and networking benefits for individual SIG members," says SLAS Director of Education Steve Hamilton, Ph.D. "Other members of the Society benefit too, because it's often the SIGs bring some of the freshest ideas to our on-going educational programs. They do this in many ways." For example, SIGs:

• Encourage members to submit podium and poster abstracts for presentation at the annual conference

• Share ideas for innovative new sessions with the SLAS Scientific Program Advisory Committee

• Encourage members to submit scientific manuscripts to JBS and JALA

• Encourage members to make scientific contributions to LabAutopedia

• Create or contribute to a state-of-the-science feature story on their topic for the SLAS Electronic Laboratory Neighborhood

Why I'm a SIG Member

"As a member and organizer of the Sample Management SIG, I receive many comments from SIG members thanking the SIG for helping them understand a specific issue plaguing their organization," says Timothy Dawes, Ph.D., of Genentech in South San Francisco, CA. "In addition, they thank us for the real world positive solutions demonstrated by other members of the SIG. This shared success provided by the SIG creates a great sense of community and support not only to the SIG members but to the drug discovery community in our common effort to help patients."

"I joined the Screening Design and Assay Technology SIG as a way to further hone my skills and knowledge in this particular subject," says Kenda Evans, Ph.D., of Agilent Technologies in Houston, TX. "Being a member of this SIG allows me to come together with other researchers in a friendly environment and discuss topics in a very open way so that many different viewpoints can be expressed."

"Our Sample Management SIG members are part of a very important, but specialized profession that I feel often works in isolation," says Richard Kuo, Ph.D., of Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Emeryville, CA. "The SIG offers a great opportunity for others in the profession to meet and discuss solutions to common questions and problems that everyone encounters in their daily work. I especially enjoy interacting with other members and solution providers – I get lots of great information and stimulating ideas that I try to incorporate within my group."

"The SIGs illustrate, in the truest sense, the flexibility and open-mindedness of the SLAS organization and its leadership," says Sue Holland-Crimmin, Ph.D., of GlaxoSmithKline in Collegeville, PA. "SIGs allow any member to pursue any idea as long as the interest, energy and enthusiasm are there."

Editor's Note: The Lab Man interviews Sue Holland-Crimmin. Listen now!

September 14, 2011